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‘Boy’ shows promise; ‘Ice,’ ‘Panic’ legs

'Scorpion King' fails to sting up biz in Europe

Cinemagoing came a poor second to watching national soccer league matches in France, Italy and Spain during the April 26-28 frame, although “Ice Age” and “Panic Room” kicked in with sturdy numbers. But it’s been a Rocky road for “The Scorpion King” in Europe. The U.K. not only withstood the downturn, but attendances surged by 30% over the prior weekend, driven by a splendid world preem of “About a Boy.” Blighty exhibs expect the Hugh Grant starrer about a womanizer who dates single moms to finish at around the same level as “Notting Hill’s” $39.1 million. The omens are bright for “Boy’s” May 17 domestic debut via Universal.

Unlike Europe, “Scorpion King” is proving to be a muscular performer in Latin America and Asia. The action-adventure earned an estimated $12.2 million from preems in 23 countries and second weekends in 12 markets, and its cume through April 29 reached $27 million.

“King” reigned in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Austria, Holland and Turkey. But one Teutonic booker described its figures as no better than satisfactory, opining, “For most German viewers, it’s just another barbarian movie.” Although it’s a spinoff from the hugely successful “Mummy Returns,” the exhib said, “Either people didn’t make the connection or the films are just too different, with one being an ‘Indiana Jones’-type adventure and the other more like ‘Conan.’ ”

In Spain, the Chuck Russell-helmed pic was body-slammed by “Blade II,” despite the latter’s steep soph-session descent. Will Smith’s clout helped ensure a reasonable turnout for “Ali” in Spain, where one programmer said the boxing biopic did well considering its “theme, length, black ambience” and minimal following for the sport.

In Italy, “Scorpion” was bested by a strong bow from “Ice Age” in what traditionally is not prime playing time for animation. “Ice’s” debut was about 18% better than “Shrek’s” launch last June, albeit on about 100 more screens, and facing zero competition. Fox’s toon was just so-so in Holland, and its cume hit $114 million.

Gallic soccer comedy “3 Zeros” led the field in soft trading in France, helped by the popularity of leads Gerard Lanvin and Samuel Le Bihan, and the rep of helmer Fabien Onteniente, who made the hit “Jet Set.” “Panic Room” was a creditable No. 2, getting good word-of-mouth and rave reviews, typified by the crit who hailed it as a “a lesson in setting a scene with incredible technical mastery, which is also an homage to Hitchcock.” The Jodie Foster starrer was the market leader in Belgium, Switzerland and Israel, and experienced moderate drops in Germany and Italy. Through its third weekend of international release, “Room” has pocketed $23.4 million.

The Eddie Murphy/Robert De Niro combo isn’t selling a lot of tickets for “Showtime,” which has raked in $16.1 million in 28 territories. The buddy/cop caper saw a middling debut in France, battling to appeal to the same demos as “3 Zeros” and holdover “Le Boulet.”

Hyped by Mel Gibson’s visit, “We Were Soldiers” triumphed in Australia, marking the Vietnam war saga’s healthiest opening in a foreign journey which thus far has generated around $10 million in 19 markets. “Resident Evil” made a fleeting appearance Down Under, while “Scorpion King” took a big hit as school kids returned from vacation. In Oz, its first major offshore date, UIP adroitly sold “40 Days and 40 Nights” as a sexy romance targeted at Josh Hartnett’s young female admirers, a switch from the more raunchy domestic campaign.

Denzel Washington starrer “John Q” needs intensive care in the U.K., but was quite lively in Taiwan. New Line’s hospital-set drama has taken a strapping $5.1 million in Spain and did OK in Mexico, but was DOA in France. Pre-release tracking in Japan predicted a stellar opening for the 20th anni re-issue of “E.T: The Extra Terrestrial,” perhaps encouraged by Steven Spielberg’s iconic status there after last year’s remarkable $78 million haul for “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” However “E.T.’s” $1.6 million bow in four days on 394 screens was only marginally better than its results elsewhere, and with China, Turkey and Poland as the only significant markets on the horizon, the re-issue has garnered just $22.2 million.

Romantic comedy “Kate & Leopold” failed to excite in Germany, where one booker mused, “Maybe it’s a little too fairytale for today’s audiences.” The Miramax pic has fetched a limp $15.3 million in 31 countries. Even less interest was generated by the Richard Gere headliner “The Mothman Prophecies” in Germany, apparently hindered by the lack of a clear marketing message. “It’s a good film, and it’s enjoyed some positive reviews,” one exhib noted, “but it’s difficult to market — what’s the film about?”

(Ed Meza in Berlin, David Rooney in Rome, John Hopewell in Madrid, Lee Simkins in London and Liza Klaussmann in Paris contributed to this report.)